So you've started a program to address loneliness and social isolation and have supportive services to provide. Now what?
Whether you’re launching a program like telephone reassurance or growing an existing one, client recruitment can be one of the most challenging aspects of program management. Unfortunately, many organizations underestimate the effort and resources required to build robust recruitment channels that not only bring in new clients, but clients that are right for your program.
Mon Ami works with agencies across the country that provide aging and disability services. Many of our partners have found that client recruitment, as opposed to volunteer recruitment, is the bottleneck to their program’s growth. This can be especially true if your goal is to find isolated older adults who may be harder to reach through traditional marketing. Below, we highlight some of the client recruitment strategies that successful programs have used to grow their client base in reliable and sustainable ways.
Sources: Where do you find clients?
Like any marketing plan, the first thing to understand is who your target audience is and where they get information. Where do they ‘hang out’, physically or digitally? Who influences them? Who or what are their trusted sources?
For loneliness reduction programs like telephone reassurance, most organizations have found that over 60% of their clients come through warm referrals from another professional or organization involved in their clients’ lives. Therefore, program staff should consider allocating their time appropriately to building referral partnerships. Depending on the organization, that could include both internal referrals from other departments or programs and also external referrals from partnerships established with other organizations and professionals.
Programs often overlook the power of influence within their own organizations or underinvest in building referral systems between programs under the same umbrella. Internal referrals still require nurturing and engagement to become a fruitful source of new clients.
As one example, SAGE USA is a large national organization that serves the LGBTQ+ older adult population. They were able to leverage different parts of the SAGE ecosystem when building their friendly calling program called SAGEConnect. They connected with another program within SAGE, SAGECare, which is a long term care training program that was already invested in becoming more competent in caring for LGBTQ+ elders. They also have 30 national affiliates, some of whom have their own friendly calling programs as well. The SAGEConnect program manager attended affiliate meetings and spoke about the program, stressing how their programs could work together.
In New York City, SAGE has 5 senior centers and a care management team. The care management team embedded SAGEConnect as part of their workflow, so social workers on the team regularly sent referrals to SAGEConnect.
Though SAGE is a large national organization, smaller organizations can still engage similar tactics. Meet with colleagues to promote awareness of the program’s benefits to their clients, and do so regularly. When you have successfully enrolled clients in your program, share the success stories with your colleagues so they see the benefits of making referrals to your program.
One of the most effective ways to reach new clients is through partnerships with organizations that serve the same demographic. Setting up a robust referral network will help direct qualified clients to your program and foster mutually beneficial relationships with organizations seeking resources for their clients. When trying to establish a referral partnership, persistence is key. Understand that your partners have other priorities, so it is your job to break through the noise. Reach out regularly, perhaps set up a cadence of check-ins, to ensure they are aware of the program and understand the benefits to their clients.
Some organizations that could make good partners include:
- Senior centers
- Hospitals and community clinics
- Assisted living and nursing homes
- Meals on Wheels and food banks
- Local politicians (e.g. county supervisors, state assembly members)
- Other nonprofits or CBO’s that serve older adults and caregivers (e.g. local Alzheimer’s Association office)
- Area Agency on Aging and local Information & Referral phone lines
To make it easy for partners to refer clients, provide them with an explanation of the program, eligibility requirements, and a simple referral form they can use to share client information. Mon Ami can help you create a digital referral form and track your referrals. Depending on the partner, they may be interested in receiving information back about the services the clients received, so it will be important to track this and make sure expectations about data sharing are clear.
Earned media is any promotion for your program that you didn’t create or disseminate through paid advertising. This can take the form of newspaper articles, social media posts, blog articles. local news segments, and newsletter mentions from outside organizations.
To generate earned media, you’ll need to tell a good story and provide a reason for the story’s timeliness. Strong client testimonials can help provide a human interest angle of the story, but to make it timely you’ll need to associate it with something else that is happening in the world. For example:
- A holiday or season (e.g. Thanksgiving, school graduations, National Volunteer Week)
- Another news story (e.g. pandemic)
- The release of a relevant study or report
- A significant community event
Once you have a story, you can send it as a press release to your local paper, ask relevant organizations with social media following to share it, or request that it be included in a partner’s newsletter. This exposure will increase awareness of your program and establish greater credibility, which can lead to more client interest.
Marketing: Tips for engaging potential clients
Be mindful of language
When talking to prospective clients and creating outreach materials, there are a few best practices:
Collect and share testimonials
Stories from clients that have benefited from your program are a powerful recruitment tool. These stories can highlight the value of the connections made and help someone imagine themselves as a participant. Social isolation and loneliness are stigmatized, so testimonials that defy stereotypes and humanize participants can encourage more potential clients to seek support.
SAGEConnect, a Mon Ami partner and national telephone reassurance program for LGBT older adults, found that stories with specific details were the most engaging and worked the best in recruitment materials.
To collect testimonials, you can include a question in your program’s evaluation survey or simply call clients and ask if they would like to share their story. Clients that have had a good experience will likely be happy to help spread the word about the program so it can benefit others in their community.
Try indirect marketing
Sometimes more traditional marketing, such as social media ads and flyers, can be a good way to increase awareness of your program. Even if your target demographic is not likely to see an online ad or flier, their doctor, nurse, social worker, adult child, librarian, delivery driver, mail carrier, or other people who interact with them might. Rather than having ads that target clients directly, you can advertise to people that may be able to recommend the program to someone they know that could benefit.
If you target someone other than a potential client, it can be helpful to suggest language for them to use when sharing the information. For example, rather than telling someone they seem lonely, which may be stigmatizing, they can say the person has a lot of interesting stories to share and it might be fun to chat with a friendly caller.
- Try using a free online tool to make eye-catching graphics for your ads, such as Canva.
- For more information about online marketing, check out Facebook’s Social Impact Learning Hub and Grow with Google On Air
Not all client recruitment strategies will work for every organization. You’ll need to try different methods and track where new clients heard about your program so you can identify what works.
One thing to keep in mind before you ramp up recruitment is that you’ll need to make sure you have clear program eligibility requirements and a smooth client onboarding process. If your recruitment efforts are successful, you’ll need to be ready for an influx of inquiries!